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Wind gusts to 112 mph reported on Anchorage Hillside as storm blows through Southcentral Alaska

  • Author: Tess Williams
  • Updated: December 22, 2020
  • Published December 21, 2020

This article has been updated. Find the most recent version here.

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Update, 9 a.m. Tuesday: The storm system blowing through Southcentral Alaska on Tuesday morning is playing out mostly as forecast, with heavy winds on the Anchorage Hillside and Turnagain Arm early Tuesday and heavy snow falling in Turnagain Pass, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Kochevar.

Wind gusts were reported as high as 112 mph Tuesday morning in Bear Valley, Kochevar said. Winds are variable throughout the Anchorage area, but Kochevar said Hillside is seeing gusts from 60 to 100 mph.

Stronger winds are expected to move into the Anchorage Bowl this afternoon, he said. Gusts were just beginning Tuesday morning, and Kochevar said a 30 mph gust was recorded in the Muldoon neighborhood.

The weather service extended a blizzard warning until noon for the Turnagain Pass and Portage Valley.

The Turnagain Pass is still anticipated to see the most snow and Kochevar said the strongest portions of the storm are likely to be happening through Tuesday morning.

Near Seward and Moose Pass, rain has been falling overnight and Kochevar said it will likely continue until Wednesday morning. Seward had about an inch of rain by Tuesday morning. A flood advisory is still in effect for the area because drainage conditions could cause small, localized flooding.

Road conditions from Girdwood to Seward could be dangerous Tuesday as blowing snow mixes with heavy winds.

Kochevar advised that drivers continue to monitor the forecast and said anyone hoping to recreate on the mountains over the holiday week should pay attention to the avalanche forecast.

Original story:

Seward Highway travel between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula could be “nearly impossible” Monday night and Tuesday morning as a major winter storm brings wind gusts up to 115 mph and heavy snow to parts of Southcentral Alaska, forecasters say.

The National Weather Service has issued a wind warning for much of Southcentral, including Anchorage and the western Kenai Peninsula, from Monday evening to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Gusts up to 60 mph are expected in the Anchorage Bowl and could reach up to 100 mph along the Anchorage Hillside. The strongest winds are anticipated early Tuesday morning.

Though gusts that strong typically do not reach into the Anchorage Bowl, meteorologist Ben Bartos said residents should tie down anything loose that could be blown away or damaged by the wind.

The Anchorage area is not expected to see significant snow accumulation, Bartos said. The temperature is expected to rise above freezing Tuesday, which Bartos said will make roads slushy.

“As far as the snowpack itself goes, it’ll take a bit of a hit,” he said. “The warmer air and high winds that we get will chew some of that snow. We have enough base on the ground where we’ll still have snow.”

The weather service warned that driving conditions could be dangerous Monday night along Turnagain Arm as the strong winds pair with blowing snow. The area could see gusts up to 115 mph, the weather service said.

A blizzard warning was issued from Portage Valley to Seward, where Bartos said the worst conditions are expected. The weather service advises those who must travel to bring a winter survival kit and expect near-whiteout conditions.

The storm could drop up to 2 inches of snow per hour and blanket the western Kenai with 1 to 3 feet of snow. Turnagain Pass is expected to see the highest accumulations.

“Travel could be nearly impossible,” the warning said. “Widespread blowing snow will significantly reduce visibility to whiteout conditions. Very strong winds could cause power outages and extensive tree damage.”

The storm system was developing early Monday in the North Pacific and was expected to move into Southcentral Alaska by that evening. Bartos said the system should arrive on the Kenai Peninsula with snowfall around 9 p.m.

The snow is expected to transition to rain as the storm continues, beginning along the western coast of the Kenai Peninsula. The transition is expected to happen overnight in Seward, and Bartos said that city could see at least a few inches of rain Tuesday. The heavy rainfall is expected to end by that evening.

The weather service issued a small stream flood advisory from Seward to Moose Pass beginning Monday night until early Wednesday. Heavy rain could cause flooding in Seward, Bear Lake, Crown Point, Primrose Campground and Kenai Lake, although the weather service said freezing levels will not be high enough to cause large-scale flooding.

“Rain Tuesday could cause flooding in poorly drained areas, blocked culverts, and small ice jams,” the advisory said. “Heavy rain on snow-packed roads may also lead to ponding of water on roads and hazardous driving conditions.”

Strong winds are also forecast for the Knik and Matanuska valleys Monday and Tuesday, with gusts of up to 60 mph possible. Temperatures are expected to reach 40 degrees Tuesday.

The weather service also issued a flood warning in effect until 1 p.m. Wednesday for the western Kenai Peninsula’s Anchor River area, from the Sterling Highway to Cook Inlet. Snow will turn into rain Monday evening, followed by heavy rain Tuesday and temperatures in the low 40s. The conditions could cause ice jams and minor flooding on the river, the weather service said.

But rain will again turn to snow in the Western Kenai area again Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning when temperatures drop. The weather service issued an advisory for Kenai, Soldotna, Cooper Landing and Homer, cautioning that blowing snow will reduce visibility from the Homer Bluff north to Clam Gulch on Tuesday night and into Wednesday.

“Gusty south to southwesterly winds are also expected at the same time as the snow,” the weather service said. “This could cause localized reductions in visibility to as low as a half mile at times.”

The weather service said that it is uncertain when the conditions will be the worst.

The storm comes at the same time as a rare astronomical conjunction that will put Jupiter and Saturn closer together in the sky than they have been in centuries. Bartos said the spectacle will not be visible in Anchorage or most of Southcentral Alaska, however, due to the storm system.

“Wherever you’re at, there’s going to be nasty weather,” Bartos said.

Daily News reporter Emily Goodykoontz contributed.

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